Senator's Office Confirms use of Great Seal in Fundraising Letter Violates FEDERAL Law!
(His Ohio STATE Law Violation in Letter is Last Week's News)
By Brad Friedman on 1/12/2005, 1:10am PT  

It appears that Ohio Sec. of State J. Kenneth Blackwell (who served as both the state's Election chief and Co-Chair of the state's Bush/Cheney Re-Elect Committee) may not only have violated Ohio state law by asking for illegal corporate contributions in a recent fundraising letter for his gubernatorial bid, but it appears that he may have broken the federal Rule of Law as well!

Blackwell's use of a facsimile of The Great Seal of the United States in his constituent fundraising letterhead and on its envelope (both shown in the graphic at the bottom of this article) is in apparent violation of Title 18 of the U.S. Code which states, according to an official U.S. State Department publication [PDF] available on its website, that "all* uses of the Great Seal and the design...are official"

The State Dept. document discusses the Great Seal, its history, and is quite clear on its illegal uses according to United States Code:

Title 18 of the U.S. Code, as revised in January 1971, prohibits use of the likeness of the Great Seal or any facsimile in...any advertisement, circular, book, pamphlet, or other publication, play, motion picture, telecast, or other production...for the purpose of conveying a false impression of sponsorship or approval by the U.S. Government under threat of a fine of not more than $250 or imprisonment of not more than 6 months, or both.

Though the version of the seal used by Blackwell, is modified in the slightest of ways from the official version of the seal (there is a solid ring around the official version, instead of ring of stars for example), the use of its "likeness" or "facsimile" clearly seems intended to endow his fundraising letter with the appearance of an official notice.

The seal, in its proper and legal use, is meant to convey the authority of the President of the United States, a fact which may raise the eyebrows of those who have suggested that alleged malfeasance in the Ohio elections by Blackwell was done in favor of his candidate and President, George W. Bush.

However, the official State Dept. document states, "The seal can be affixed only by an officer of the Department of State, under the authority of its custodian, the Secretary of State."

We will presume that refers to the United States Secretary of State, as opposed to the one from Ohio.

Further the State Department document discusses requests for uses of the seal for nonofficial business (which would seem to exclude candidates seeking funds for quixotic gubernatorial bids):

Requests To Use the Great Seal and Coat of Arms

All of these uses of the Great Seal die and the design, or coat of arms, are official. Often private, nonofficial requests to use one or the other come to the Department of State. The Great Seal can be affixed only as provided by law [P.L. 91-651, Title 18 USC], and impressions of the seal cannot be made for display purposes or in response to requests for souvenirs or samples. This position has been applied not only to impressions made from the present die but also to impressions from earlier dies still in existence.

The sorts of documents on which the seal may be used by the U.S. Secretary of State after countersigning along with the President of the United States include:

  • Instruments of ratification of treaties and other international agreements;
  • Proclamations of treaties and other international instruments;
  • Appointment commissions of ambassadors, Foreign Service officers, Cabinet officers, and all other civil officers appointed by the President whose commissions are not required by law to issue under another seal; and
  • Assignment commissions for consular officers.
  • Our work load of late has kept us from being able to contact Blackwell's office for comment on this second apparent disregard for the Rule of Law in a single fundraising letter. We hope, however, that other media outlets may be able to do so shortly, and The BRAD BLOG will report on any explanation Blackwell's office may have when and if they do.

    It should be noted that it was AP who originally reported on the letter's illegal request for corporate funds in violation of Ohio state law. Blackwell's campaign office attributed the illegal request to "a printers mistake." In that same article, Blackwell is quoted as saying, "I have an obligation to follow the law."

    It was, however, the Internet-only RAW STORY who exposed the letter originally even though AP failed to give them credit for their exclusive.

    An original scan of the controversial Blackwell letter, composed while the Ohio recount was still underway, can be seen at RAW STORY with both uses of the Great Seal facsimile.

    A text-only version of the full letter can be read in our earlier story on the matter.

    Ken Blackwell's conscience and regard for the Rule of Law are still elusive at this time.

    UPDATE: Confirming our report, Sen. Lautenberg (D-NJ) office says use of Great Seal in campaign letter is illegal. RAW STORY has the story. Natch. Also, Stephen Koff of the Cleveland Plain Dealer seems to have been working on the same issue concurrently as The BRAD BLOG and they published their story on it this morning, which was in turn picked up by the Subscription-Only newsletter National Journal.

    A Blackwell representative is quoted in the reports as explaining that the seal is "official-enough looking to grab the letter recipient's attention" but "different enough to be legal."

    The Dept. of Justice would seem to disagree with that since they gave warnings about using the seal in this way to several Democrats and Republicans as many as 21 years ago according to the above reports. We'd urge you to read them both.

    As well, The BRAD BLOG has learned that that DoJ warning doesn't seem to have stopped the campaigns and PACS of J.C. Watts, Bob Barr and several others from using the fake seal recently on their own fundraising letters.

    One reporter with whom we spoke about this issue, when asked about the triviality of this apparently breach of Federal law has told us, "I have three words for you: 80-Pound Paper."

    UPDATE 1/14/05: HOUSE DEMS REQUEST DOJ CRIMINAL PROBE OF BLACKWELL! Requesting Special Prosecutor for Illegal Use of Great Seal as Originally Reported by BRAD BLOG! Click here for details!